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Extension > Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Education News > 2015

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thanks to Galen Erickson, Master Naturalist Volunteer, for Capstone Video

The Minnesota Master Naturalist program is and exciting way to learn about nature through a 40-hour course. Master Naturalist is for adults wanting to expand their horizons about the natural wonders in Minnesota's major biomes. After completing a course, they join thousands of others across Minnesota to volunteer in parks, nature centers and after school programs. Master Naturalists return thousands of hours of volunteer service annually to conserve Minnesota's natural resources. 

Galen Erickson is a Master Naturalist Volunteer from Minnesota from Plymouth, MN, who completed a video for the Master Naturalist program as his course capstone project. Galen runs New Horizon Productions INC., a company that produces short professional videos for Fortune 500 companies and Nonprofits. 


Monday, December 7, 2015

Driven to Discover Project Inspires Ecuadorians

Citizen engagement in scientific research is a hot topic among academics at the Universidad de Cuenca in Cuenca, Ecuador. FWCE Educator Andrea Lorek Strauss fanned the flame with a presentation about the Driven to Discover (D2D) project on a recent visit there.

Conservation biologists, anthropologists and geographers recently participated in a three-day seminar on Citizen Science and the potential for involving communities in gathering data relevant to their lives, including crowdsourcing of traffic patterns to aid biking and public transportation usage. Strauss, on a personal visit to the country last week, connected with University scholars in civic engagement and offered to share her expertise in training volunteers to engage youth in contributing citizen science data and pursuing independent scientific investigations. 

The research and evaluations on from the D2D project provided useful insight for the discussion. Science education in Ecuador is heavily lecture based at all levels, from primary school through University, and rarely includes lab or field experiences. The D2D curriculum guides and teaching tools provide innovative approaches for hands-on, learner directed learning experiences. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

4 questions with Andrea Lorek Strauss

When it comes to addressing controversial issues in Extension teaching, you’ve recommended to “teach the questions.” What does that mean? 

Andrea Lorek Strauss,
Extension Educator, Fish, Wildlife & Conservation Education,
Rochester Regional Office
“Teaching the questions” means helping audience members to think about an issue at a bigger picture level. I view Extension as playing a critical role helping our citizenry understand the larger societal and scientific questions that a controversy raises. We are in a unique position not only to share factual information about a situation, but also to help people recognize when larger questions are at play, such as “What is nature for?” “Who gets to make decisions?” “What is the appropriate role for government?”

The conflict of the moment may be about a current situation or problem, but differences of opinion are often rooted in differing value systems, differing world views. When we disagree about buffer strips, we’re really disagreeing about larger questions like “Who makes decisions about land use?” “Who should pay the price for clean water?” “What value do we place on democratic processes?” and so many more. Thinking about the issue through the lens of these larger questions helps to uncover the roots of the issue, the sources of our disagreement.

Understanding these larger contexts helps us understand ourselves and each other better. It helps us talk about what really matters and what’s at stake with any given issue. And when citizens understand an issue more clearly, they can engage more effectively with each other and the public processes that affect us all.

What programs are you part of and who are the major audiences? 

About half of my time is dedicated to working on the Minnesota Master Naturalist program; I specialize in training and supporting our corps of 200 instructors, writing the curriculum and other special projects such as the annual conference. We are excited about our new model of volunteer engagement, which is helping us understand and support our participants through all phases of their involvement.

Invasive Blitz workshop in Duluth.
This workshop was covered by local media. 

The other half of my time focuses on a program called “Driven to Discover,” which trains volunteer adults to help youth get involved with citizen science and to use that experience to conduct real science research projects. By monitoring birds, monarch butterflies, phenology, dragonflies or pollinators, young people can’t help but to become curious about what they see. This program capitalizes on that interest and channels it into investigations.

So, I work with volunteers, naturalists, educators, youth group leaders, citizen scientists and anyone else interested in natural resource conservation!

What do you see as the major challenges facing citizen science? 

Sometimes also called “Public Participation in Scientific Research,” citizen science entails getting the general public involved in following specific protocols to gather, report and analyze scientific data. Research scientists at universities or public agencies can’t address large-scale ecological questions on their own, so calling on the public produces valuable conservation information while at the same time helping participants build a connection to nature, engage with their communities and build their scientific literacy.

The field of citizen science is fairly new to the world of science, and there are a few skeptics reluctant to trust data collected by “untrained” members of the public. But acceptance is growing, if slowly. Another challenge is helping prospective volunteers, including youth, to see their power to make a difference in the world, to see that it really is possible for them to do work that matters. And once these volunteers are engaged, supporting them over time with feedback and new opportunities can also be a challenge.

How did your interest in conservation education start?

Like many, I grew up playing outdoors. My siblings and I loved family camping trips around east central Wisconsin where I grew up. My mom wasn’t the roughing it type, so she and my dad – a definite woodsman – compromised with a pop-up camper. I have great memories of camping: cool nights in the camper, playing in the woods, paddling with my dad, hanging around the campfire, swimming in fast-moving rivers, and attending naturalist talks everywhere we went. I also spent summers attending scout camp, eventually earning opportunities to go on wilderness canoe trips. In this setting I really found my own footing in the outdoors and learned to love wild places. I had poor experiences in high school science classes, so in college I studied the things that came easily to me – communication, English, secondary education. I was all set to be a high school English and speech teacher. But after college I knew I needed to be outdoors and took a big leap of faith by accepting a seasonal outdoor education job in Massachusetts. I had the teaching experience, everyone else there had been biology majors, and together we figured out how to teach kids about food webs and the like. A year-long training program at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in northern Minnesota cemented my confidence that I was headed in the right direction.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Minnesota Master Naturalist sponsors National Public Lands Day Sites across Minnesota

On September 26, 2015, The Minnesota Master Naturalist Program made a concentrated effort to get as many volunteers out as possible to provide conservation service on MN public lands.  Staff worked with 13 sites across the state to host 319 volunteers who provided 1,677 hours of volunteer service for a value of $41,639.91.  What an incredible impact!
Projects included, bud capping at Itasca State Park, Park Rapids and at Boulder Lake Environmental Learning Center, Duluth.  Volunteers staple small pieces of paper over the small tasty tops of the newly planted white and red pines to protect them from hungry deer over the winter.  Over 26,000 trees were fitted with their bud caps!
The Rochester area had volunteers doing native seed collection and invasive species removal.   It was a great day of service for the state of Minnesota.  For more information about the Minnesota Master Naturalist Program and upcoming classes check our web page at Other activities, included work at a Monarch Weigh Station in St. Paul, creating pollinator gardens in Brainerd, and TONS of buckthorn removal at the Lac qui Parle Mission in Watson.  The Rochester area 

Friday, April 17, 2015

Monarch Citizen Science Project on PBS show SciGirls

The third season of the hit PBS show SciGirls is focusing entirely on citizen science. The show, which encourages girls to become involved in science and engineering, will begin airing its latest season this month. One entire episode will depict girls participating in the Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, which is led by Extension faculty, Karen Oberhauser. You can view a preview of the season here, and check your local listings to find out when the show airs on your local PBS station.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Minnesota Master Naturalist is EXCITED to welcome Sam Ham to Minnesota for an environmental interpretation presentation

The Minnesota Master Naturalist program will welcome Dr. Sam Ham to Minnesota for a environmental interpretation presentations on July 21-22, 2015 in Mankato MN.

In two-hour keynote address on July 21, Dr. Ham will draw on recent advances in communication research to pose some questions about the "endgame" of interpretation--when is interpretation "successful?", what does professional "excellence" in interpretation look like?, and how would you recognize it? Interpreters who want their work to make a difference have a great advantage when they can envision the pathways through which making their difference can plausibly happen. And seeing these pathways is far easier when you have a clear sense of interpretation's endgame.

In a July 22 workshop, open only to Master Naturalist Instructors, Dr. Ham will lead participants through a series of practical exercises that they can use to train others in thematic interpretation. These exercises will emphasize how to think thematically, how to distinguish between strong and weak themes, and how to craft strong themes that will provoke an audience to think. Ham will also introduce the "zone of tolerance" idea and explain why it is needed to know how "successful" a thematic interpretive product is.

Dr. Sam Ham is Professor Emeritus of communication psychology and international conservation in the University of Idaho's Department of Conservation Social Sciences. Sam's research has focused on the role of interpretation in parks, protected areas and sustainable tourism destinations and in applying communication theory to heritage and nature-based tour guiding, travelers' philanthropy, and other free-choice learning settings.

Master Naturalist instructors can attend these events for FREE (all expenses covered by Bertha Lewis Trust Fund)

All others are invited to the evening Keynote program for a plated dinner and evening with Sam Ham! Students $20, General registration $40.

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